Saturday 1 June 2024

Port Sainte-Marie (boaters' 2nd law: you never have the spare you need)


Even though we're in such a rural area of France, for some reason it never feels spoilt when we come across signs of industry whether it’s giant grain silos or salt factories such as this one going into Einville-au-Jard on Tuesday morning.

Salt works at Einville-au-Jard

The timber building on the left is a restored ‘sondage de la saline’ or ‘salt sounding’ which performed in a similar way to derricks in oil fields.  The following picture is of a postcard (with a 1904 date) showing one of the sondages that used to be in Einville.

Postcard of a sounding in Einville-au-Jard

Hotel boat Princess went past as we were getting ready to leave Maixe first thing.  We’ve seen the boat and crew before as they travel between Nancy and Saverne each week, making the return journey the following week. Apart from the obvious luxury of fine cuisine and wines, the eight passengers are treated to some stunning places such as Nancy, Lutzelbourg, a 16 metre deep lock and an inclined plane.  We’re not sure we’d want to shell out €15,500 for a double room for a week but each to their own.

Princess passing as we got ready to leave

After Princess had gone ahead, we set off for Einville-au-Jard where Karen had left the car on Monday. An éclusier followed us most of the way on a little weed cutter.

Just after the salt factory, followed by the first lock, we were pulling in to the port in Einville-au-Jard where we’d planned to stop for breakfast.

While having breakfast, two girl gendarmes knocked on our roof wanting to know where we’d stayed the previous night.  When I told them we’d been back at Maixe they made their leave.  We could only assume something had happened nearby at Einville and they were questioning boaters who'd stayed there overnight in case they’d seen or heard anything.

After breakfast Karen and Buddy took the car to Bauzemont lock and I set off on the boat to meet them there.  I was soon out of the town and back into the lovely green countryside:

Arriving at Bauzemont lock I had to wait for one of several hire boats we saw during the day.  It gave me a chance to marvel at the expanse of the tiled roof on a farm building by the lock.  The picture doesn’t really do it justice, but we’ve moored below the lock a couple of times in the past and been fascinated by the roof.

Hire boat and tiled roof at Bauzemont lock

We continued in the same vein for several locks, Karen taking the car and me the boat, and while she waited for me at each lock she and Buddy went for a little walk. 

Going our separate ways at one of the locks

The long straights of the canal around Nancy had been replaced by more bendy bits, reminiscent of English canals:

We continued meeting at locks as we weren’t sure where we wanted to stay overnight but the decision was soon taken out of our hands.  We were just leaving one lock when an alarm started.  My initial reaction was that it was one of our fire alarms but a quick glance at the control panel told me that the engine was overheating.  I turned the engine off and drifted to the side.  Fortunately, Karen hadn’t left yet and was able to help me tie up and stay while I checked out what had happened. Once in the engine bay I found that one of the alternators had slipped and its fan belt was completely loose.  It was the engine alternator that also drives the water pump and powers the starter battery.  My initial reaction was that this was better than a broken fanbelt as all I had to do was tighten the alternator mounting bolts. 

While sorting out the alternator I checked the hoses and found that one of the pipes from the header tank had a small split in it.  I assumed that once the alternator slipped and the water pump stopped working that the water was no longer being pumped through the keel skin tanks where it is cooled by being alongside the canal water. This would have caused the overheating and then the pipe split at the weakest point.  As the pipe was a supply pipe as opposed to one in the main circuit, I assumed we could carry on.  Fortunately, there was a hire boat base a couple of locks away so we slowly made our way there so we didn’t overstress the engine.

I drove with the engine cover up so I could keep an eye on the split pipe to make sure it wasn’t leaking.  It was all a bit dangerous really as it meant I had to stand on the counter, the deck at the very back.  This is a position that shouldn’t be adopted when driving a boat with a tiller as a sudden swing of the tiller arm could send the driver overboard.

We made it to Lagarde where we wanted to moor above the lock so I could make a trip to the chandlery at the boatyard.  Going up the lock we realised that Princess had taken our spot so, needing to stay near the boatyard, we moored opposite them using pins.  The captain came over to see us to apologise in advance if their generator kept us awake during the night.  He also gave me the useful information that the guy who lives in the lock cottage is very friendly and happens to be a boat engineer and would be happy to help if I had any issues.      

Tuesday night above Lagarde lock

Although we carry lots of spare parts on the boat, as luck would have it, we didn't have spare hose of the required diameter.  By the time I got to the boatyard the only staff left on duty were hire boat related and the chandlery was shut up for the day.  They were very apologetic and said I would have to return in the morning.  To be fair one of them tried calling a couple of their engineers to see if they could encourage them to return but couldn’t get a response. 

On Tuesday we cruised 22 kilometres up seven locks and saw nine boats, six of them hire boats.


Having been warned about Princess’s generator we were rather surprised that we didn’t hear it once during the night.  The hotel boat left at 8.00am and soon afterwards Karen left too to take the car to Port Sainte-Marie where we’d be leaving the boat for a few weeks while we went back to the UK.  I popped down to the chandlery when it opened at 8.30 and bought a metre length of the hose I needed.  It was quite a bit longer than I required but that was because I wanted to have a spare length. 

Soon after I got back on board, Karen arrived too, having parked the car at our destination and run back to the boat.  We set off almost immediately as rain was forecast later and as we didn’t have far to go, we hoped we could make it without getting wet.  After going up the only two locks of the day and we were about a kilometre from the port, it started raining.  Typically, it was raining quite heavily by the time we moored up.  There was no one around so we stayed put in the boat until later in the day when it stopped raining and then went for a walk around the area.

Moored at Port Ste-Marie

On Wednesday we cruised six kilometres up two locks and saw one hire boat and two private boats.


Thursday was getting ready to leave the boat day which also involved a trip to the nearest vets which was 35 kilometres away in Dombasle-sur-Meurthe.  As a sign of how remote we are we only saw one car and one van on the roads until reached Dombasle itself!

Buddy went through his usual rigmarole of not letting the vet give him his mandatory worming tablet without lots of treats.  It seems mad that we have to get his passport stamped with the fact that he’s had a worming tablet even though we give him one a month anyway.  We shouldn’t moan because as he has a French passport, we don’t have to go through the hassle and expense of obtaining an animal health certificate every time we leave England, a requirement introduced on the back of Brexit.

After the vets we popped to the local Lidl charging station to charge up the car and then called into the boatyard at Lagarde to pay for our mooring.  The rest of the day was spent back at the boat, packing and loading the car including Karen’s precious squash plants.  We also moved Chalkhill Blue next to the boat lived on by Alain, the guy who caretakes the port and looks after the boats that are left there.  


Our journey back to Flecknoe took far longer than expected even though we’d allowed extra time because we’d stupidly booked the tunnel on a Friday of half-term week.  We hardly ever have problems with Eurotunnel but this time we were delayed by nearly 2 1/2 hours due to the volume of cars at the terminal.  Like us, perhaps the powers that be at Le Shuttle hadn’t realised it was half-term week either.  We were then further delayed because of the M25 and the whole journey ended up taking nearly 16 hours instead of around ten!

Looking back at our first visit to France this year we can certainly say it was different and that’s not just because of the unseasonable weather we’ve had.  We’ve never been for such a short time and have never cruised so much rather than taking things easy so we can include plenty of sightseeing.  The main driver for not going for so long was because we wanted to be back in England for June to be around for the birth of our seventh grandchild.  We cruised a lot because we’re having a different approach to being in France this year by not spending as much time as usual there.  The main objective for this recent visit was to get to near Wittring on the German border where we’re going to black the boat in a dry dock during September.  Wittring is 330 kilometres away from where we started our travels this spring, hence the mad dash.

When we’ve completed the work on the boat, we’ll return to England in October and not go back until 2025 when we’ll spend a lot more time in France as we have lots of plans of new places we want to visit.  So that’s probably it blog-wise until we return to Chalkhill Blue.  Oh - Karen’s squash plants survived the journey back to England too.



Ian said...

Enjoy your time with family. Weather hasn’t improved - writing this during a early morning thunderstorm in Montargisūü§®

Anonymous said...

Hello there were planning to bring our narrowboat Uncle Monty to french canals, we're using a haulage company who plan to drop us in at Rouen. They said I need to register the boat as an international ship. When I looked into this its a massive can of worms and as we're not going to sea obviously I can't understand why I need to do this. Can you help me to find out what papers are required. The boat is about 50 yo built by some independent builder I have my index number, insurance and canal and river trust licence, and european helmsman licence I can't get any info from anywhere about the requirements post brexit. Regards Simon

Neil & Karen Payne said...

Hi Simon. First question is are you a member of the DBA as I believe they have extensive help on this issue? If not then you can contact me on Cheers, Neil